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On Liking The Things We Like (And Being Okay With It)

So I'll take my bad taste and you're welcome to yours, and maybe someday something will actually happen again and then we'll both be happy.
Lester Bangs

"I have the musical taste of a woman whose hair is always a little too crispy looking." This is what I said the other day in a conversation on Facebook. I was defending my appreciation of Bon Iver. Or maybe I was defending my love of Marc Cohn. Or was it Kenny Loggins? "She's really into the music they play in beach volleyball scenes in movies." Kenny Loggins. It was definitely Kenny Loggins.

I'm aware that it's trendy right now to stand up in defense of saxophone solos. I am already fighting my way out of this haystack of an argument wielding the pitchfork of the presumed victors, so to speak. I've already sided myself firmly in the corner of something that is the NOW thing, which happens to be the very thing I mocked not that many years ago when I was trying to be moody mod or angry punk, whichever phase hated saxophone solos the most. And here I am now defending the winning team, and yet still trying to contend that we're the underdogs. Look! Isn't it WACKY how into Hall & Oates' Abandoned Luncheonette I am? I'm going to play "Waiting For A Star To Fall" on repeat and be all embarrassed when it turns up on Spotify! I'm so OUT THERE when I put on my Bad Company cassette that I bought for a quarter at the Goodwill.

I am guilty of all of the above. The false self-marginalization of liking music that has been outmoded to the point of being hip again.

But I've had the same conversations from the other side of the court as well, talking smack about the now thing, simply because I'm not into it. I've been critical of Lady Gaga, of Lana Del Rey, even of the deification of Thom Yorke. "I don't get it." "Why do people him/her on such a pedestal?" "Ugh! It's AWFUL. She has nothing to say." (I won't divulge which is which.) Ask my opinion on Skrillex: I will have an opinion on Skrillex.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Do I really need to have an opinion on Skrillex? I suppose the analytical argument is something we practice and savor: who doesn't love a good debate. People all over the internet love getting into the nitty-gritty, the essence of a pop culture phenomenon, taking sides and staking claims. (Not to mention those who do it purely for the page views.) I am going to dissect for you why I think this is awful, and you are going to respond with the reasons why it is not. Or why it is not SO bad. The defensiveness of the things we love is understandable, easy. We like sparring with people over things we deem precious. When a particular song connects with us at some core level —that lyric, this chord—, we will defend it to the death! But trying to defend something we didn't really have an opinion about to begin with? What's the point? In the same vein, what motivates those of us who see or hear something new and immediately bristle, then rush off to our computers to type screeds explaining and dissecting the awfulness of it all, just because it doesn't knock our socks off?

If you are truly offended by something, the argument is justifiable. If there's something in it that hurts you, that makes you upset that it was brought into the world to stand in antithesis to your beliefs: yes, this you can talk about disliking. But do we have to have an opinion on everything ephemeral, every little blip of a phenomenon? Let me argue the argument the Lester Bangs way: I'll take my bad taste, and you're welcome to yours. I won't get angry about Gaga because you, god bless you, really respect her. Why should that offend me?

What it really seems to come down to is saturation. The too-muchness of anything that permeates our daily lives can turn anyone into the attacker. If "Video Games" is hammered over our heads in the drugstore, the dentist chair, analyzed in newspaper columns, gif'd and video posted repeatedly on music Tumblrs, feminist Tumblrs, sexy lady Tumblrs, and sexy feminist music Tumblrs, at some point someone who doesn't want to hear the song any more is going to stand up and shout: "this is why I don't need to hear this song any more: this is why it is wrong of her to be in my life." And then they will probably mention her lips.

But instead of talking about the things we don't like, the things we wish weren't on the radio, let's just change the station. Put on the record that YOU love. And talk about why you love it. I love hearing people talk about why they love something, even if I don't love the thing they love. It makes you happy? Awesome. Love what you love and don't apologize for it. Don't fake embarrassment listening to the saxophone solo (especially don't fake that). Don't stop listening just because Neo-Soul belongs to a different person than who you're trying to be. At the same time, we can all agree not contribute to the too-muchness by hammering our favorite music over someone else's head. (This the part I'm still learning: not making other people listen to what you love so personally and deeply. It's hard not to shout from the rooftops about something you love, to hold it forward and say "see? look how beautiful!" But if you don't let them come to it on their own, it will never be theirs entirely, it will never be the same thing it is for you [cf: all of Todd songs I've foisted upon the internet over the past two years].)

That Bon Iver song? I love it. (Sorry, Nick.) I love the cheesy keyboards. I love the saxophone bit. Sure it's safe and trendy to say you like Bon Iver, and sure it's been done before, and there are kids up there on that stage playing guitars who were in diapers back in the day when Don Henley and his feathered hair did it first. But they are up there on stage playing something that makes them so happy. I hear that song and I'm so happy. Happy with an exclamation mark happy! Just like when I hear "Walking In Memphis" I'm happy. Or "Night Owl," where the muzak is loud, or "Waiting For A Star To Fall," where you carry your heart into my arms. And for this —until "someday something will actually happen again and then we'll both be happy"— I refuse to apologize.

I refuse to apologize for my bad taste. And you're welcome to yours. Or? You're even welcome to listen to mine.

(See also Meghan's brilliant post on The New Girl, which I read just after I finished writing the first draft of this, and which probably influenced my second draft. She is saying much the same thing about a television show I don't really have a strong opinion on, but love hearing about why other people like it, and also about the needlessness of apologizing for whatever voice our womanhood manifests as. Also, in case my mantra didn't give it away enough, Lester Bangs said all of this first in his much better essay "Bad Taste Is Timeless." I just changed Bangs' Devo ["a bunch of wormy little wimps who think if they get rid of their personalities their neuroses will go too"] to my Lady Gaga and Bangs' Beck, Bogert & Appice to my Boy Meets Girl. And I'm so into not apologizing that I wouldn't even apologize to Lester for that last one.)

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.

Reader Comments (4)

a year of following and this post makes me say...more years to come! Music (photography, reading) is so in the ear (eye, mind) of the beholder....love what you love and don't regret!

February 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMullen Canada

Mullen: Thanks! And amen.

February 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterZan McQuade

I'm still trying to sort out my simultaneous feelings of slightly scandalized and a little skeeved out that arise every time Billy Squirer comes on the radio.

February 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternicole

Nicole: GO WITH IT. I saw Billy open for Todd a year ago at the Iridium, and it was kind of awesome.

February 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterZan McQuade

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